THE people of Switzerland were not always free and happy as they are to-day.
Many years ago a proud tyrant, whose name was Gessler, ruled over them, and made their lot a bitter one indeed.
One day this tyrant set up a tall pole in the public square, and put his own cap on the top of it; and then he gave orders that every man who came into the town should bow down before it.
But there was one man, named William Tell, who would not do this.
He stood up straight with folded arms, and laughed at the swinging cap.
He would not bow down to Gessler himself.
When Gessler heard of this, he was very angry.
He was afraid that other men would disobey, and that soon the whole country would rebel against him.
So he made up his mind to punish the bold man.
William Tell’s home was among the mountains, and he was a famous hunter.
No one in all the land could shoot with bow and arrow so well as he.
Gessler knew this, and so he thought of a cruel plan to make the hunter’s own skill bring him to grief.
He ordered that Tell’s little boy should be made to stand up in the public square with an apple on his head; and then he bade Tell shoot the apple with one of his arrows.
Tell begged the tyrant not to have him make this test of his skill.
What if the boy should move? What if the bowman’s hand should tremble? What if the arrow should not carry true? “Will you make me kill my boy?” he said. “Say no more”, said Gessler. “You must hit the apple with your one arrow.
If you fail, my soldiers shall kill the boy before your eyes.” Then, without another word, Tell fitted the arrow to his bow.
He took aim, and let it fly.
The boy stood firm and still.
He was not afraid, for he had all faith in his father’s skill.
The arrow whistled through the air.
It struck the apple fairly in the center, and carried it away.
The people who saw it shouted with joy. 37 As Tell was turning away from the place, an arrow which he had hidden under his coat dropped to the ground. “Fellow!” cried Gessler, “what mean you with this second arrow?” “Tyrant!” was Tell’s proud answer, “this arrow was for your heart if I had hurt my child.” And there is an old story, that, not long after this, Tell did shoot the tyrant with one of his arrows; and thus he set his country free. ARNOLD WINKELRIED A GREAT army was marching into Switzerland.
If it should go much farther, there would be no driving it out again.
The soldiers would burn the towns, they would rob the farmers of their grain and sheep, they would make slaves of the people.
The men of Switzerland knew all this.
They knew that they must fight for their homes and their lives.
And so they came from the mountains and valleys to try what they could do to save their land.
Some came with bows and arrows, some with scythes and pitchforks, and some with only sticks and clubs.
But their foes kept in line as they marched along the road.
Every soldier was fully armed.
As they moved and kept close together, nothing could be seen of them but their spears and shields and shin-ing armor.
What could the poor country people do against such foes as these? “We must break their lines,” cried their leader; “for we cannot harm them while they keep together.” The bowmen shot their arrows, but they glanced off from the soldiers’ shields.
Others tried clubs and stones, but with no better luck.
The lines were still unbroken.
The soldiers moved steadily onward; their shields lapped over one another; their thousand spears looked like so many long bristles in the sunlight.
What cared they for sticks and stones and huntsmen’s arrows? “If we cannot break their ranks,” said the Swiss, “we have no chance for 38 fight, and our country will be lost!” Then a poor man, whose name was Arnold Winkelried, stepped out. “On the side of yonder mountain,” said he, “I have a happy home.
There my wife and children wait for my return.
But they will not see me again, for this day I will give my life for my country.
And do you, my friends, do your duty, and Switzerland shall be free.” With these words he ran forward. “Follow me!” he cried to his friends. “I will break the lines, and then let every man fight as bravely as he can.” He had nothing in his hands, neither club nor stone nor other weapon.
But he ran straight onward to the place where the spears were thickest. “Make way for liberty!” he cried, as he dashed right into the lines.
A hundred spears were turned to catch him upon their points.
The soldiers forgot to stay in their places.
The lines were broken.
Arnold’s friends rushed bravely after him.
They fought with what-ever they had in hand.
They snatched spears and shields from their foes.
They had no thought of fear.
They only thought of their homes and their dear native land.
And they won at last.
Such a battle no one ever knew before.
But Switzerland was saved, and Arnold Winkelried did not die in vain. THE BELL OF ATRI ATRI is the name of a little town in Italy.
It is a very old town, and is built halfway up the side of a steep hill.
A long time ago, the King of Atri bought a fine large bell, and had it hung up in a tower in the market place.
A long rope that reached almost to the ground was fastened to the bell.
The smallest child could ring the bell by pulling upon this rope. “It is the bell of justice,” said the king.
When at last everything was ready, the people of Atri had a great holiday. 39 All the men and women and children came down to the market place to look at the bell of justice.
It was a very pretty bell, and was polished until it looked almost as bright and yellow as the sun. “How we should like to hear it ring!” they said.
Then the king came down the street. “Perhaps he will ring it,” said the people; and everybody stood very still, and waited to see what he would do.
But he did not ring the bell.
He did not even take the rope in his hands.
When he came to the foot of the tower, he stopped, and raised his hand. “My people,” he said, “do you see this beautiful bell? It is your bell; but it must never be rung except in case of need.
If any one of you is wronged at any time, he may come and ring the bell; and then the judges shall come together at once, and hear his case, and give him justice.
Rich and poor, old and young, all alike may come; but no one must touch the rope unless he knows that he has been wronged.” Many years passed by after this.
Many times did the bell in the market place ring out to call the judges together.
Many wrongs were righted, many ill-doers were punished.
At last the hempen rope was almost worn out.
The lower part of it was untwisted; some of the strands were broken; it became so short that only a tall man could reach it. “This will never do,” said the judges one day. “What if a child should be wronged? It could not ring the bell to let us know it.” They gave orders that a new rope should be put upon the bell at once,—a rope that should hang down to the ground, so that the smallest child could reach it.
But there was not a rope to be found in all Atri.
They would have to send across the mountains for one, and it would be many days before it could be brought.
What if some great wrong should be done before it came? How could the judges know about it, if the injured one could not reach the old rope? “Let me fix it for you,” said a man who stood by. 40 He ran into his garden, which was not far away, and soon came back with a long grape-vine in his hands. “This will do for a rope,” he said; and he climbed up, and fastened it to the bell.
The slender vine, with its leaves and tendrils still upon it, trailed to the ground. “Yes,” said the judges, “it is a very good rope.
Let it be as it is.” Now, on the hillside above the village, there lived a man who had once been a brave knight.
In his youth he had ridden through many lands, and he had fought in many a battle.
His best friend through all that time had been his horse,—a strong, noble steed that had borne him safe through many a danger.
But the knight, when he grew older, cared no more to ride into battle; he cared no more to do brave deeds; he thought of nothing but gold; he became a miser.
At last he sold all that he had, except his horse, and went to live in a little hut on the hillside.
Day after day he sat among his money bags, and planned how he might get more gold; and day after day his horse stood in his bare stall, half-starved, and shivering with cold. “What is the use of keeping that lazy steed?” said the miser to himself one morning. “Every week it costs me more to keep him than he is worth.
I might sell him; but there is not a man that wants him.
I cannot even give him away.
I will turn him out to shift for himself, and pick grass by the roadside.
If he starves to death, so much the better.” So the brave old horse was turned out to find what he could among the rocks on the barren hill-side.
Lame and sick, he strolled along the dusty roads, glad to find a blade of grass or a thistle.
The boys threw stones at him, the dogs barked at him, and in all the world there was no one to pity him.
One hot afternoon, when no one was upon the street, the horse chanced to wander into the market place.
Not a man nor child was there, for the heat of the sun had driven them all indoors.
The gates were wide open; the poor beast could roam where he pleased.
He saw the grape-vine rope that hung from the bell of justice.
The leaves and tendrils upon it were still fresh and green, for it had not been there long.
What a fine dinner 41 they would be for a starving horse! He stretched his thin neck, and took one of the tempting morsels in his mouth.
It was hard to break it from the vine.
He pulled at it, and the great bell above him began to ring.
All the people in Atri heard it.
It seemed to say,— “Some one has done me wrong! Some one has done me wrong! Oh! come and judge my case! Oh! come and judge my case! For I’ve been wronged!” The judges heard it.
They put on their robes, and went out through the hot streets to the market place.
They wondered who it could be who would ring the bell at such a time.
When they passed through the gate, they saw the old horse nibbling at the vine. “Ha!” cried one, “it is the miser’s steed.
He has come to call for justice; for his master, as everybody knows, has treated him most shamefully.” “He pleads his cause as well as any dumb brute can,” said another. “And he shall have justice!” said the third.
Meanwhile a crowd of men and women and children had come into the market place, eager to learn what cause the judges were about to try.
When they saw the horse, all stood still in wonder.
Then every one was ready to tell how they had seen him wandering on the hills, unfed, uncared for, while his master sat at home counting his bags of gold. “Go bring the miser before us,” said the judges. “Some one has done me wrong!” And when he came, they bade him stand and hear their judgment. “This horse has served you well for many a year,” they said. “He has saved you from many a peril.
He has helped you gain your wealth.
Therefore we order that one half of all your gold shall be set aside to buy him 42
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